Parental Values, Reinforcement, and Young Children’s Prosocial Behavior: A Longitudinal Study

Nancy Eisenberg, Sharlene Wolchik, L. Goldberg, I. Engel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


In this study, the authors assessed the relation of parental reinforcement and parental values to young children’s prosocial behaviors. Parents’ dyadic interactions with their 1- to 2-year-old children were videotaped in the home on two occasions approximately 6 months apart. The children also were videotaped playing with a peer at 3½ to 4½ years of age. Parental reinforcement of the children’s prosocial behaviors was coded, as were the children’s prosocial behaviors with their parents and the children’s prosocial, defensive, and social behaviors with the peer. The frequency of girls’ spontaneous prosocial behaviors decreased in the early years; modest consistency was observed for boys (but not girls) across the two parental sessions. No relation existed between the frequency of children’s prosocial behaviors with their parents and their behaviors with peers. Both maternal and paternal valuing of compliance were negatively related to the mothers’ use of reinforcement for children’s spontaneous prosocial behaviors. Parental reinforcement of compliant prosocial behaviors was negatively related to children’s compliance with a peer’s request for prosocial behavior and positively related to defensive behavior with the peer. Fathers’ valuing of prosocial behavior was associated with children’s compliance with the peer’s requests for prosocial action. Parents who valued compliance had children who exhibited low levels of compliant prosocial behaviors with the peer, possibly because of the depressed level of peer interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-36
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Genetic Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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